The image of a line worker silhouetted against the setting sun as they work high above the treetops is as iconic an image as any in the utility industry. The mental image of a rugged lineman instantly forms in many people’s minds. Few picture a petite woman climbing poles and fighting the elements to bring them service.
Julia Pezant is blazing new trails as OEC and OEC Fiber’s first female technician. Raised in Moore, Oklahoma, she began with OEC Fiber two years ago in the fiber control room as a part-time intern before becoming a full-time control room operator after graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a Bachelor of Science and Mathematics and a minor in communication. Daily interactions with the technicians in the fields sparked her insatiable curiosity, driving her to embrace a new direction in her career.
“I want to know the ins and outs of everything,” said Pezant. “It was enlightening when I would go on field trips with [technicians] and get to see exactly what’s going on.”
Reading the notes left on work orders by the technicians and studying the photos of job sights sparked her curiosity. She asked the crews questions about what happened and how they resolved issues to better understand how everything worked together to provide top-notch service to subscribers.
“That’s what’s cool about her,” said manager of fiber optic technicians, Jeremy Kilpatrick. “She is hungry to learn and very willing to put in the work.”
The transition from control room operator to field technician is a challenging one. Knowing the inner workings of a fiber network only goes so far when building the physical structure.
“It is definitely more physically demanding,” Pezant said. “You don’t need a ton of strength for anything we do. All shapes and sizes are capable, but learning how to use your body and apply the force [is a challenge].”
This challenge is one Pezant has been more than happy to rise to. She credits the mentorship of her fellow technicians as a critical part of her success. Each of them remembers the uncertainty of stepping into the role themselves. With their decades of combined experience, there are no better teachers for her on-the-job training than her fellow technicians.
“It’s kind of a dream,” Pezant said. “I had a lot of nerves leading into it, but I love it. [The other technicians] have been supportive and encouraging me to trust the process.”
Stepping into a male-dominated role can be daunting, but having an existing relationship with the other technicians gave her an added layer of comfort.
“They were accepting and thrilled to have her on the team,” Kilpatrick said.
Her willingness to learn and adapt is invaluable in the field. No two days, let alone two jobs, look the same.
“It’s mind-bending the variety of environments we end up in within our eight-to-14-hour shift,” Pezant said. “Yesterday, we were in the back roads of Chickasha installing, and two hours later, I’m 16 feet up on a pole splicing in fiber with traffic flying by right in the heart of Norman.”
Jumping into this exciting new career trajectory has turned Pezant into an inspirational figure, something that was never on her radar. Still, she recognizes the significance of her role. When asked about others wanting to follow in her shoes, she encouraged them to step out and accept the challenge.
“Try it. You’re never set on anything. Recognize that there are a lot of norms and biases that have developed from being male-dominated for years and years. So it takes a while to adapt. Have patience with the process. Recognize the reality of the situation and have a good sense of humor.”
Trailblazers like Julia Pezant rarely think of themselves as more than simply doing a job. Stepping into this new role paves the way for future generations of women. Somebody has to be first, and OEC and OEC Fiber are proud to embrace the exciting future of this changing landscape.